Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Year in Botany

We are well into 2019 but I am only just getting round to writing my now traditional OxBot 'Year in Botany'. It may have been a bit of a poor year for blog posts, but 2018 was another good one for botanising in Oxfordshire.

In terms of botanical highlights, many came at the beginning of the season. As summarised in previous posts, new populations of Eriophorum angustifolium (common cottongrass) and Oenanthe silaifolia (narrow-leaved waterdropwort) were found this yearCystopteris fragilis (brittle bladder-fern) was refound for the county, and there was the strange case of Althaea officinalis (marshmallow) appearing at Otmoor. There were also new sites for other rare plants such as Myosurus minimus (mousetail) and Gymnocarpium robertianum (limestone fern). Recording also turned up new sites for the acid-loving species Juncus bulbosus (bulbous rush) in the Chilterns and a new hectad record for the locally rare Agrostis vinealis (brown bent) and Carex binervis (green-ribbed sedge), found at Foxhills.

The highlight of 2018 for me has been the volume of data going into the BSBI database, over 29,000 records. That is about 3,000 more than any previous year in the Atlas 2020 recording period, so as we enter the final year of recording it is great that we are sustaining and building upon the momentum of the last few seasons. Around 5,000 records came from Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre via our data sharing agreement, and Tim Harrison sent me an amazing 6,000 from SU79 and other parts of the Oxfordshire Chilterns. There were also solid contributions from outings led by Sally Abbey and Frances Watkins, and big individual contributions from Roger Heath-Brown, Frank Hunt and Clare Malonelee. I am very grateful for the efforts of everybody who sent me records in 2018.

If you would like to see the difference your contribution has made this last or any previous year, I have updated my Atlas progress map. In addition to showing the tetrad coverage, records and recording rate, you can now also see the equivalent for hectads, and compare the current recording period (2000-2019) with the recording period for the New Atlas (1987-1999). The squares now also link to hectad lists as well as tetrad lists, useful for identifying taxa that are still needing to be found for the current Atlas. Apologies if you don't like the grey colour scheme - if you can suggest an improvement then I will change it!

Finally, the Atlas is not just about going out recording and finding nice things but also about getting the data into shape for publication. I am sure you will be fascinated to know that this year I have managed to make substantial progress with checking the BSBI's data holding for the county, having looked at over 270,000 records. This has created further work, having identified about 1,000 records that need following up. Of course the best way to check records is to do so at the point at which they are sent me by the recorder - I am very grateful for recorders' help in resolving my queries about their records. This can be quite time consuming, so when you are out recording please do remember that any extra information you can provide with a record, especially status, accurate grid references and notes, helps with the verification process.

Looking forward, there's plenty to be excited about this year, not least the final year of Atlas recording. For instance, on Saturday 9th March the Oxfordshire Flora Group (OFG) is hosting a conference at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford on the topic of 'The Dynamics of the Oxfordshire Flora' - a programme for the conference can be found on the OFG website. There will of course be plenty of field meetings this year, and I have added a provisional programme to the events calendar. I hope to see you at some of these or other events this year!